King Arthur - Wales’ Greatest Export?

1st November 2017

What have Guy Ritchie, John F. Kennedy, Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler and Alfred, Lord Tennyson got in common?

The answer, as writer and broadcaster Jon Gower reveals this week in a fascinating drama- documentary, is an obsession with the legendary figure of King Arthur.

Jon traces how the ancient Welsh warrior-king became a global icon - with the help of Welsh singer Sophie Evans, currently starring as Glinda in the West End musical Wicked.

"Sophie and I come both come from Tonypandy", explains Green Bay's Creative Director, John Geraint, who produced and directed the drama-documentary. "I worked with her early in her career in my film about the Tonypandy Riots, so I know what a versatile performer she is."

"Sophie plays Arthur's queen, Guinevere. And as any good Rhondda girl would, I think she really enjoyed the fantastic filming location we had in Castell Coch near Cardiff - and being Queen of the Castle for a day!"

In the medieval retelling of the story, Guinevere is at the centre of deadly love-triangle, which pitches the king against his most trusted knight Lancelot.

The fallout destroys the legendary court of Camelot. And Arthur, mortally wounded, sails away to the mystic island of Avalon.

"As Guinevere, Sophie has a regal screen presence" says John Geraint "It's easy to see why both Arthur and Sir Lancelot would have found her company mesmerising."

Arthur's story - the King of a fabulous court, with a Queen of enchanting beauty, and his Knights of the Round Table as paragons of chivalry and romance - is known the world over.

Fearless and flawless, he's a warrior whose exploits have thrilled generation after generation, for century after century.

Arthur's genesis may be lost in the mists of time, but his values still speak to us today. His ideals have inspired presidents and protestors, democrats and dictators, all around the modern world.

Even the manner of his passing seems to comfort the defeated and downtrodden. One day, if the myth can be believed, he will come again in their hour of need.

It was a series of historical accidents that turned a shadowy figure, emerging from the fight to save old Roman Britain from the invading Saxons, into the ‘Once and Future King' who conquered the world.

Championed by medieval writer Geoffrey of Monmouth - who located Camelot in nearby Caerleon - Arthur was taken up as a hero by the Normans, who used the ‘history' to justify their conquest of the Saxon kingdom.

Then Arthur became a legend in France, where the tradition of ‘Courtly Love' added the tales of knights like Lancelot, and the mythic search for the Holy Grail.

And Arthur continued to shape-shift across the centuries. He's a hero to the Tudor kings of England. For poet Tennyson, he's a wronged and tragic Victorian lover. He's a model for leadership in the great global conflicts of the twentieth century.

And just this year, once more, he's become the poster-boy for a Hollywood movie.

This new telling of the story, shot in Welsh locations like the fairy-tale Castell Coch, Caerleon and the Preseli mountains by Cardiff-based Green Bay Media, is already going global.

Thanks to the support of Visit Wales, and the involvement of Dutch distributors Off The Fence, it's being sold to broadcasters all around the world in a feature-length international version.

"Arthur is a figure" says John Geraint, "who has been placed in history over and over again, because of the power his story wields to shape that history."

King Arthur may be Wales' greatest export. He has become a hero for the whole world, and - in a way that transcends the facts of history - a legend for all time.

Y Brenin Arthur is on S4C at 9.30pm on Thursday, 9 November. English subtitles available.
Dylan Jones plays King Arthur and Jonny Vaughton is Sir Lancelot.

 

 

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